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Saturday marks the end of Bougainville’s independence referendum, what next?


Saturday marks the end of Bougainville’s independence referendum, what next?

bougainville referendum result
Photo: Asahi Shimbun/Getty

Today will mark the last day of the independence referendum being held in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.

The referendum provides citizens with two choices: the enhancement of current autonomy arrangements or independence. The current PNG PM favours a shared region, with Bougainville having increased autonomy.

If Bougainville is to gain independence, it will face major economic issues, as the region relies heavily on PNG for financial support. Although rich in natural resources, the area’s main source of income, the Panguna mine, has been closed since 1989, the second year of a decade-long civil war that resulted in the peace agreeing leading to the referendum. Even if PNG agrees to reopen the mine, it could not be operational until 2025. Thus, independence—the option favoured by most citizens—would pose a number of issues requiring negotiation with the PNG government.

The referendum’s results will be released on December 20, with a vote for independence the most likely outcome. However, with numerous political and economic questions yet to be resolved with PNG, the process of becoming an independent nation could take years for Bougainville to achieve.

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